The early weeks and months are crucial for getting your pup to experience all sorts of things and especially important for socializing with other dogs and humans. They are learning their skills for life, if you plan on making it a large part of their life then get them used to it
But don't jump onto the trail right away.
At the very least, I would recommend waiting until he has all of his vaccines, so 4-ish months. The last thing you want is for your dog to get into tussle with a raccoon before he has his rabies vaccine. Talk to your vet so the dog gets all of the appropriate vaccines and flea/tick treatments when it's tick season.
For longer hikes, wait until he's fully grown. The physical strain of those kinds of hikes on a growing puppy can cause joint problems in the future.
Get them some boots for their paws. Keep an eye on your terrain.
My dog got blisters from a long hike over stony terrain and it was just terrible to recover from. I picked up mukluks to protect his feet. I was pretty diligent about boots so the blisters are rare but on a small dirt hike he picked up a stone in between his paw pads. We caught it when he started limping. Do a paw check after hikes.
First and foremost, make sure he's on preventatives for fleas, ticks, heartworm (which is transmitted by mosquitos), or any other parasites that may be common in your area.
Check for ticks daily and be prepared to remove them.
Those are all far more likely to cause problems for your dog than any other kind of wildlife out there. Also do a thorough tick check after hiking/camping. Even with preventatives, they still sometimes attach.
Make sure your vet knows that you're planning to hike and camp with your dog.
Ask if there are any specific vaccines they would recommend. The exact vaccines he'll need will vary depending on where you live, but some examples of what your vet may recommend include leptospirosis and Lyme vaccines.
Third, get a dog first aid kit and familiarize yourself with how to use it.
It's also worth learning which human medications/treatments can be safely used on a dog and which cannot. You might also want to consider training your dog to wear booties (so you can put a boot on him if he injures his paw) and training him to wear a muzzle.
Even the most friendly dogs can lash out when they're injured--you don't want an injured dog and a bite to your hand/face.
As for preventing encounters with wildlife, keeping your dog on leash will prevent most of those encounters. If you want to hike with your dog off leash, make sure you train a rock-solid recall to keep him out of sticky situations.
In camp I just use a 25ft cable tie out wrapped around a picnic table leg or tree. Other people tie a rope between two trees and attach the dog's leash to the rope.
Your dog should get water and snacks when you do (or more frequently) on a hike. Be mindful of the heat as dogs don't sweat, give him as much water during and after a hike as he desires, and find shady spots on the trail to pause and let him cool down.
Food should be pretty easy.
I usually bring A can of screw as food since I know he's burning lots of calories out on the trail.
Just go and experiment.
Take more than you need then adjust accordingly. If you're going to feed your dog structured meals at home, I suggest you do--labs will almost always eat themselves to obesity if free fed, just pack as much food for as many meals as you need. If you're going to be doing a lot of hiking or particularly strenuous activity, plan to feed your dog a little more than what he would eat at home.
I portion my dogs' food into individual baggies for each meal ahead of time to make things easy. This probably goes without saying, but bears and other wildlife will be just as attracted to dog food as to human food. Store dog food appropriately while camping.
Water is a little harder to judge, and to be honest, you're probably going to have to figure it out as you go along.
You can kinda judge based on how much water your dog drinks at home, but he'll probably need more while hiking. If you're car camping or can otherwise spare the weight, bring extra. Be careful about letting your dog drink untreated water from a river/lake/etc. Giardia can affect dogs too.
Honestly, going for a hike with their humans and chilling with them at a campsite is in and of itself a good time for many dogs, especially for hardy, outdoorsy breeds like labs.
If you want to do more with your dog, a game of fetch would probably be fun, or let him swim, if it's allowed and safe, or give him something to chew on while you sit around the fire.
This might go without saying, but from one dog owner to another, please don't give dog owners a bad name amongst hikers and campers.
- pick up his poop, if you're in the backcountry, bury it like you would with human waste:
- follow dog-related park rules
- don't take him on trails where dogs aren't allowed
- don't let him run up to other hikers/campers without their permission
- don't let him wander into other camp sites
- don't let him harass wildlife
- if you're on a narrow trail and meet another hiker
- move to the side of the trail and have your dog sit until the other hiker has passed
- keep him quiet at night
- and remember that not everyone likes dogs and those people have just as much right to enjoy their time in the outdoors as you do
There are many parks that don't allow dogs partially because too many dog owners can't be bothered to be responsible for their dogs.
Please don't give parks more reasons to ban dogs.
I hope you have a good time in the outdoors with your new puppy! It really is a lot of fun for both humans and dogs. My two hike and camp with me at every possible opportunity.